This week I was a guest on Mat Time with Storypark. This being my first video interview, (and also my first official blog post) I was a bit nervous but I sure did have fun hanging out on the Mat with Hilary chatting about the importance of nutrition for children. The clever folks at Wellington based start-up Storypark are creating brilliant ways for parents, teachers and children to create stronger communities. If you have a little one in preschool you may already be familiar with how Storypark connects you to the world of your child while they are at preschool. It’s been really fun to watch Storypark grow along the way.
I am very happy that I could share some information about childhood nutrition to the Storypark community.
My personal interest in nutrition started about 7 years ago because my family was sick. My youngest son was chronically unwell with asthma, mood issues, crippling anxiety, constipation and allergic reactions from everyday life. As a mum, my focus was on getting my son better and as I searched for answers, I also became aware that I could no longer ignore my own health problems. I was suffering from chronic digestive issues but I had begun to think of my constant bathroom trips, “tummy bugs” and painful swollen tummy “normal”. After many doctor and specialist visits we were left with no answers as to why were were sick and we were sent away with a few pills to mask our pain. Deep inside I felt there was a tangible root cause, a scientific explanation for our symptoms that perhaps these doctors were not aware of. I searched for answers, read books, and after an exhaustive search of trial and error, I found a Naturopath who focused on the root cause of our illness. After starting a few basic supplements and making some diet changes my son’s Asthma and constipation resolved. My digestive issues cleared and it was clear to me that what we put into our bodies has a direct relation to our health.
From this experience, I realized that I needed to be more proactive about my health and not just put it in the hands of doctors who are really in the business of disease management, not optimal health. We were still eager to sort out some remaining health issues my son was suffering from and I sought out the help from a well regarded Pediatrician in private practice working in Auckland Dr. Leila Masson. Dr. Masson discovered our son had a rare infection that was causing his symptoms. We started working on making his diet free of common allergens, doing some tests to look at the state of his health and that was we we learned that his gut bacteria was overrun with clostridium difficile and his gut was not working to produce healthy neurotransmitters.
Over the course of our journey, I realized that I have a huge passion for food, nutrition and family health. I went on to receive my training in Holistic Nutrition from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York so that I could work with women who are interested in learning how to use food and nutrition to improve their health and energy and that of their families. That is when The Remedy Project was born!
Here is some more info based on what we discussed during Storypark Mat Time.
Nutrition tips for Families
There is a lot of nutritional information floating around out there and it can really feel like the information often contradicts itself. Most nutritional studies are done in isolation and the media is quick to publish anything that sells news. What is known is that nutrition is hugely important for the health of our body and mind and especially before conception, during pregnancy and in childhood. At these times nutrition is essential for the rapid creation of healthy cells.
Often during pregnancy, women will pay special attention to what they are putting into and onto their body because they are building a new life and want the best possible start for their baby.
As our children are introduced to first foods it is important to train their tastebuds on healthy foods that are free of additives and chemicals as they are especially sensitive to these. There is a growing body of evidence that the chemicals in our everyday environment are upsetting balance of our bodies and contributing to the modern diseases of inflammation (think: Asthma, allergies, mood disorders, eczema).
A simple whole-food formula to keep in mind for meal preparation is this:
- Protein: aged cheese, unsweetened full fat yogurt, unprocessed free range meat, beans, tofu/tempeh
- Fruits and Vegetables: seasonal fruits and vegetables, cooked and raw, a mix of textures and colors.
- Whole Grains: breads are made from processed grain and spike blood sugar. Experiment with whole grains like rice, oats, millet, and quinoa.
Variety is very important in every way as well. Eating what is in season, lots of colors like orange, red and purple, textures, sauces, soups, hot and cold etc.
Children today are big on snacks and often the snack foods they have are very empty in nutrition in the form of processed high glycemic carbs like bread, crackers, cookies and chips and things high in sugar like nut bars, yogurts, biscuits. We are in the habit of having a biscuit for morning and afternoon tea and we just culturally do the same for our kids, training them to continue the habit.
Slowly change family favorite recipes to increase nutrition
- Make small changes and don’t announce it. – gently make small changes that are undetectable.
- Engage kids in thinking that their food is more than just something to put in their mouth. Ask them to guess which part of their meal is good for healthy bones? Can they guess? If a bunny rabbit was at the dinner table, which food would they be excited to eat? Have fun thinking up ways to engage kids in thinking about their food choices.
Tips for teachers
- Read books about farms and growing food. Some are listed on the Storypark Pintrest Board
- Talk about healthy food and where our food comes from. Most children think food comes from the grocery store, but before that, where does it come from?
- Have a “rainbow foods” day where the children all bring in a vegetable and you arrange them by colour and talk about the vitamins and delicious nutrients that help us grow big and strong.
- Have some policies in place for lunch boxes and party food. You could reach out to a local nutrition expert who would be happy to come and run a parent night for your parents explaining why nutrition is important.
- Once a week have a “food detectives” day where you ask each child which items in their lunch box would be good to feed the class guinea pigs, rabbits etc. If a child holds up a packet food, you can ask “do animals eat things in packets?” Should we eat food in packets?
- Grow some vegetables in the school grounds and get the children involved. Easy to grow veg are beetroot and silver beet, lettuce, carrots. You could make a special vegetable soup with what you grow.
- Make sure there are no pesticides used on the school grounds. There are chemical free weed killers made with vinegar, salt and oil you can find online
- Bring green plants into the classroom. The children can be responsible for watering them and the plants also serve to clean the air in the classroom
- Some classrooms talk about germs and bad bugs that spread sickness and good bugs can also be talked about. What are our good bugs? What do they do for our bodies?
- Let children play outside and get dirty. Exposure to soil microbes helps keep the micro-biome healthy and helps develop a healthy immune system
Resources for Parents and Teachers
Free Ebook Nourishing Your Babies Morning Noon and Night
Some good documentary Films to watch with older children: Hungry for Change, That Sugar Film
Children’s Health A to Z for New Zealand Parents (but great for any parent!) by Dr. Leila Masson
Nourishing Traditions Cookbook – a great general whole foods cookbook
Feeding the Whole Family: Recipes for Babies, Young Children, and their Parents
I am looking forward to sharing more information about healthy gut bugs for children soon. Please let me know if there is something you would like info about!